This audio–Mad Libs app featuring a shape-shifting alien on a visit to Earth is gimmicky but well-executed enough to overcome a scattershot story.
Before readers are introduced to an orange space creature named Dax, a menu of 10 items is presented. They must perform such feats as howling like a wolf, growling like a tiger and saying, “Thank you.” The audio is then baked into the fairly haphazard story of Dax, an alien shaped like a mushroom and colored with big, square pixels. Dax, who can imitate billions of voices, rockets to Earth, lands in the ocean and begins making as many friends as possible. He uses the audio recordings to communicate with Earth-dwelling animals as his body shifts shape. The audio is as low-key or exciting as readers care to make it, and the trick adds a lively layer to what’s otherwise a competent but ho-hum story. Dax realizes he has no real voice of his own (should he blame the app?), then goes on a journey of self-discovery to meet more animals and to find his own identity. The alien is cheerful enough, and the app’s soothing colors, smooth art and animation complement the audio well. It’s not narrative magic, but it’s a pleasant trip.
Dax’s own story voice in the end may not be too remarkable, but with an assist from readers, it can at least sound much more exciting. (iPad storybook app. 3-8)